Safer Communities Together: A Story of Christchurch Police Failure

Safer Communities Together: A Story of Christchurch Police Failure

Before I get stuck into this, I want to say that I’m a big supporter of the police overall. Police officers put up with more crap than pretty much anyone in any other profession, including the complaints departments of telecommunications companies. Probably.

The police have a tough job to do and, for the most part, they do it and at the same time manage to brush off the constant abuse and personal insults they no doubt receive from those that they lock away and, probably almost as often, those that they’re even trying to protect.

Christchurch PoliceThere’s also systems in place for those that specifically have a problem with how the police operate. I’ve never completed this process so I’m not aware of how effective it is. However, this blog post is on behalf of some people that are close to me that for their own reasons, have zero interest in going through what would probably be a lengthy and disruptive complaints procedure.

So with that out of the way, I can now get down to the reason for this blog post. The Christchurch police are failing to protect innocent people and, as you’ll see below, seem to be putting innocent people in more danger than before the police arrived on the scene. What happened to ‘safer communities together’?

Christchurch Police Uniforms

The Christchurch Police Mission

The New Zealand Police seeks to be a world-class police service working in partnership with citizens and the community to prevent crime and road trauma, to enhance public safety and to maintain law and order.

The above statement is directly copied from the New Zealand Police website, formatting is my own. I’ve highlighted ‘to enhance public safety’ as there have been some cases recently where the opposite has been true. I strongly believe the Christchurch police need to face up to these issues and provide some answers.

Here are four cases in which the police have directly put innocent people in harm’s way and then left them to face violent criminals on their own. In each of these cases, the innocent party is someone close to me in Christchurch that I can personally vouch for. I won’t mention their names as, unlike the police, I have an interest in their safety.

Christchurch Domestic Violence

Case 1: A Domestic Violence Incident

This case occurred within the last month and took place in a western Christchurch suburb. I assume that the offender is awaiting trial.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Joe, lives in a student flat on a shared driveway. His flat is the middle of three and so he walks past the first flat every time he departs or returns to his residence. One evening, Joe witnessed the resident (a man who I’ll call Dick) of the first flat beating a woman who Joe recognised as the resident’s girlfriend. This girl was taking quite a beating from this Dick and so Joe dialled 111 and asked for the police as soon as possible. In the meantime, another man tried to break-up the attack.

15 to 30 minutes later, the police arrived and entered the house. A police officer then entered Joe’s flat to take a full statement from him as Joe was the only one that witnessed the majority of the attack.

After Joe gave his statement, the police officer then entered the first house and proceeded to give Joe’s statement to Dick, the violent offender. This statement included Joe’s full name and the fact that Joe lived in the flat right next door.

Horrified, Joe asked the police officer why he had just given all of his details – as the key witness to the attack – to a man who is clearly a violent criminal and also happens to be Joe’s neighbour. The police officer replied that Joe had nothing to worry about – the police were just a phone call away. This, obviously, didn’t do anything to help calm Joe’s nerves considering that the police had taken up to 30 minutes to respond to the emergency phone call in the first place.

The result? Since the incident, Joe has been staying at a friend’s place. He’s not stupid. Joe has to walk past the offender’s house to get to his own door and the offender is aware that Joe is the guy that ‘ratted him out to the cops’. Do the police care? Apparently not.

Gang Violence

Case 2: A Cowardly Attack in Christchurch City Centre

This case occurred a few months ago. The police met with an offender face to face … to return the guy’s cell phone and then leave.

Late one night, some friends – males in their late teens and early twenties – were enjoying a night out in town. They were walking along Cashel Street, right outside Nood Furniture, when they were jumped by a number of people that had been waiting in an alleyway. Two friends were violently knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked and stomped on by some of the offenders. The offenders then ran off, leaving the friends to bleed on the street.

The offenders were completely unknown to the friends and the friends had been walking along, minding their own business and enjoying their evening. Following the incident, one of the victims had to have extensive surgery carried out on his teeth as they had been kicked backwards by one of the perpetrators.

The twist to this story is that, while no one could identify the attackers as it had been so quick and dark, one of the attackers dropped their cell phone. This phone had a full contact list and the photo gallery included photos that he had taken of himself in various gang-sign related poses. The cell phone was handed over to the police with a full statement of what had occurred.

So what did the police do? Using the phone’s contact book, they managed to track down the owner of the phone. They then visited the owner of the phone, handed him back his phone and said good day. Apparently they didn’t have enough evidence to say that this guy had been an attacker and so they completely dropped the case.

The really sad part of this story is that I read in the paper a few weeks later of a number of other disgustingly violent and random attacks had occurred in that exact spot. Luckily, the police had been nearby in one of them and actually caught the guys in the act – but that was quite a chance scenario. Do the police need to witness every attack?

Crime

Case 3: An Attack near a Bar in Aranui, Christchurch

This case occurred within the last few months. The police have all the information they need but no action appears to have been taken.

One evening, a friend in his early twenties visited a bar that he hadn’t been to before in Aranui. He spent an hour or two at the bar, having a few beers and minding his own business, playing on the pokies. He managed to hit a jackpot and ended up with a few hundred dollars.

At the time, he was staying with family just a few hundred metres from the bar and so set off along Breezes Road to return home. Part way along the road, two men that he recognised from the bar and he knew the first names of through his own contacts caught up with him and demanded his wallet. They had seen him win the money, finished their drinks and caught up to him.

The two men took the wallet said “Don’t call the cops – we know your name and who you are”, and ran off back towards the bar.

This guy let them get out of sight and then immediately called the police (having tried to flag down a passing police car immediately after the incident and being ignored). The police, to be fair, arrived quite quickly on the scene and questioned the victim at the side of the road.

As they were within a few hundred metres of the bar, the police (quite abruptly) said they were taking the victim back into the bar so that he could point out the offenders. Let’s just look at that concept for what it is – a young man, new to a part of town but known to the two offenders through mutual contacts, has just been attacked by two men who are regulars at the bar and live nearby. The police are suggesting that the victim walks into the middle of this (quite dodgy) bar where, no doubt, the offender’s relatives and friends regularly hang out and in front of all these people, they want the victim to point out two local regulars that have just attacked him and have his full name and details (they stole his wallet which contained his driver’s licence).

Now, surely the police see a lot of violent crime and so you think they would be pretty street-wise. But this suggests otherwise. They’d pretty much be throwing the victim to the wolves in this scenario. As it happened, at the last minute, one of the police officers thought it might be best if the victim waited in the car park while the officers went inside. The offenders hadn’t actually returned to the bar itself and so were nowhere to be found. Of course, everyone inside the bar denied any knowledge of the incident and of the two offenders while trying to catch a glimpse of the victim standing outside.

Following the incident, a friendly local had found the victim’s – now empty – wallet nearby and returned it to a police station. The police station contacted the victim to ask him to pick up his wallet. He arrived at the police station and enquired as to how the case was progressing (like I said, he had known the first names of the offenders and actually knew that they were currently performing community service in that area). To this, the police replied “What case?”. Since then, he’s heard nothing.

Police in Christchurch

Case 4: A Stalker Incident and a Failure of the Court System

This case happened years ago and is one that has always baffled me as to how it was handled. I was the witness in this case and experienced the majority of it first hand. In this case, the police did a pretty good job but were then let down by the courts.

My first flat in Christchurch was on a quiet cul-de-sac in Shirley. My neighbour was a woman in her early 30s with a very young daughter. One evening, while I was at home, I heard a knock on the door. I answered and was greeted by a very nervous man in his early twenties. He fed me a story about his car breaking down and how he needed to get back to his house urgently. Being quite an innocent guy at the time, I offered to give him a lift.

We jumped in the car and turned out of my driveway, at which point a police officer with a police dog on the side of the road shined a torch into the car and onto this guy’s face. Thinking “Hmm. That’s not a good sign”, I drove slowly and asked the guy where his car was – I couldn’t see it on the street. He said “Just round the corner. Just keep driving.”.

As I turned the corner, I could see a long stretch of road with no cars on it at all. I slowed to a total crawl to allow the cops to catch up and tried to appear friendly to this guy – it was at this point that I realised how much bigger he was than me!

Thankfully, a police car quickly appeared behind me and I stopped the car. The guy turned to me with a look of panic and said “What are you gonna say to the cops?”. I said “Er … why?” and stepped out of the car. The police took custody of the guy and then took a statement from me.

It turned out that this guy had been stalking the woman that lived next door to me for a week. She’d called the cops previously and they said they couldn’t do anything. On that night, the guy had decided to be more bold and had walked up her driveway and had been peering through her windows. He had then tapped on the window to get the woman’s attention (her young girl was standing right next to her) and she locked the doors and called the police. The police arrived quickly and the man fled the garden by jumping the fence and knocking on my door. I then, apparently, acted as a get away driver for at least a good 100 metres.

Now to what went wrong. The court date arrived and I and the woman entered a small waiting room at the Christchurch Court to wait for the hearing. We quickly realised that we were the only people in this small room except for the offender himself. This, obviously, made the woman start to panic. What’s worse is that the offender moved to sit next to the woman and told her not to say anything bad about him in the court room as he wasn’t a ‘bad person’. I intervened and suggested to the woman that we wait outside until they called us to the court room. The offender simply followed and continued to harass the victim while I tried to encourage him to clear off.

After waiting and putting up with this for about 4 hours, our hearing was called. What follows was my only first-hand experience of being questioned by a real life lawyer and one that I will never forget. “I put it to you that the accused didn’t say ‘What are you going to say to the cops’. What do you say about that?”. Long pause. “Er … he did”. “Ok, I have no further questions”.

Despite this brilliantly clever line of questioning, the guy was found guilty. What follows is another significant cock-up by the system. The offender was sentenced to community service. This community service was to be carried out at a church – approximately 100 metres from the victim’s house and one that she had to walk past every day with her daughter to get home.

I mean seriously. Are you kidding me?

In this day and age, how can this happen?

In each of the first three cases, the witnesses or victims were young men in their late teens and early twenties. Do the police have a prejudice against young males whether they are offender, victim or witness? Do the police consider them second rate citizens not worthy of attention? Perhaps as they assume they are students and have no standing in the community?

In all of the examples above, if the person calling the police had been a 40 year old woman in a professional career, would they still have been put at risk? Would a 40 year old neighbour be left to fend for herself having had her information and address passed onto a violent wife-beater? Maybe.

Police Car in Christchurch

Safer Communities Together?

I think the above examples show clear failures on both official police procedures as well as individual police officer’s failure to ‘protect’. It also shows failures on security at the Christchurch Court itself and suggests that the Christchurch police are forgetting the ‘safer’, ‘community’ and ‘together’ of their tagline. Sadly, I’m sure these incidents aren’t unique to Christchurch but these represent just 4 incidents that I have direct knowledge of.

And what does this tell us as innocent citizens? When we witness a crime, do we call the police, give our statement and risk putting ourselves in harm’s way? What about the code of silence that police officers struggle with when trying to get witnesses for important cases – are those people that refuse to act as witnesses doing so because of a negative attitude towards the police and because they’re standing up for their fellow citizen, or is it because they actively fear for their safety as communicating with the police appears to mean handing yourself over to the violent accused? And just now I read a news article on Stuff.co.nz that states only one third of New Zealand crimes are reported.

I think this is a very serious issue that deserves immediate attention. Witnesses are a fundamental aspect of any case against alleged criminals and, as innocent bystanders, they have a right to be respected and protected by the police. And this isn’t happening. Why not?

Next time you see your neighbour – a large and aggressive man – beating his girlfriend, what will you do? If, even for an instant, you question whether you would call the police knowing that you could be pointed out to the attacker and left to fend for yourself, then we are living in sad times indeed.

As I said, these are just four incidents that I have had a personal involvement with or someone close to me has experienced.

Other than these, I have had no experience of the police. What about you? Have you had an involvement with the police? How did it go? Do you agree with the above or was your situation quite different? Or maybe you work for the police? Feel free to post anonymously is you wish but I would love to hear from you.

Are these mainly faults with individual police officers or the system as a whole? Is it standard procedure to give a witnesses’ details to a violent offender?

Flickr image credit: conner395, devcentre, like_the_grand_canyon, southbeachcars, ksuyin, koruru

  • Claire

    That’s awful. Perhaps you should take it all together to the police directly, going to the head honcho, and hopefully they can look into it so that the same doesn’t happen to anyone else??

  • RolyPog

    Very valid points made Mark. A case I will add that happened to someone I know very well, as recently as 3 weeks ago, raises similar issues: an unfortunate incident with a domestic arguement where the male was trying to get his partner’s family (who were living off them) to leave, and made a flippant remark in the heat of the arguement about popping himself, and when further disagreement ensued with his female partner and the family present and he locked them out, the police were called.
    I don’t agree in principle with the idea of people calling the police to settle domestic issues as it happens far too easily in the heat of the moment, and is perhaps often a waste of police time, but I also think it is true that if a female calls the police they respond quicker than if a male does. In this case, they arrived and were told that the guy had threatened suicide. Both the arguement and the threat not good stuff, I agree, and all stuff that I have huge empathy with the police for having to deal with, probably on a daily basis. However, my problem is with their solution. In this case, they took HIM away to the station for questioning and assessment of his suicide risk, which obviously made him angry as he felt the family should have been made to leave and not him as it was his home for which he was carrying all costs, and then despite taking him because of the supposed suicide risk, they then released and ‘trespassed’ him from his own home for 24 hours and allowed the partner and her family to remain in the house. Fair enough in a sense, to leave the majority in the place, but my problem is with the fact that they just left him out in the cold with nowhere to go, not even allowed back under escort to get a blanket, food etc, for 24 hours, despite the fact that his own safety was apparently at risk…even if it were an idle threat. I know for fact that when women are in this situation, they put them in care with supporting people or in refuges, but the guy is just left to fend for himself, find help wherever, and sleep in his car for the 24 hours he was not allowed back. And then?… any sort of support in taking him back into the situation you might ask? Any help given to help the people concerned to step over this ‘trespass’ period and get back to ‘normal’. Zilch Zero, absolutely nothing! I agree that if the guy was a threat to the safety of the other people, or to himself, that they could take him and assess the situation, but I do think that their solution is not complete, and actually compounds the whole issue because there is simply no support given for a man in that situation to go to somewhere comforting, and secure where he could calm down if necessary, or talk to someone, or even get help for what must be a very frustrating situation all round. There are women’s refuges all over (and I am certainly not slamming the very necessary safety and help they give women and children in the risky and unsafe situations they have been taken from) but nothing done to give support to a man in the same situation. I also ask the question: why is the man automatically assumed to be the worse ‘offender’ or risk in the situation, and simply removed with nowhere to go for a period of time? Surely there must be more support systems that the police can draw on, to give the same support or treatment equally to both men and women, protecting them both equally. I would feel exactly the same way about it if the women had been excluded from her home for 24 hours with nowhere to go.